Tread North from Yellowstone and you’ll find yourself in Montana. This is big sky country baby, for big boys only, so saddle up and get a move on or put your tail betwixt your legs and go home Meriwether (it says this on the sign when you first enter Montana). Ghost towns abound here, but be careful man, for there are more than a few tourist traps touted as ghost towns that really aren’t. Call me a purist.
Go ahead, call me a purist.
But, I think that ghost towns should be the stuff of memories’ forgotten past. No one should live there and I shouldn’t be able to buy shitty trinkets or even the ubiquitous t-shirt depicting an airbrushed wolf howling at the moon. Virginia City, MT is like this. Bypass it if you’re man enough (but then you should have read that welcome sign) and head up Montana Highway 1 towards Philipsburg. Stop there and load up on sweets at the world famous Philipsburg Sweet Palace before facing the vertical climb to Granite for a better example of a ghost town (although it has been placarded by the NFS). A steep unmaintained dirt road will get you there, over wash outs and ruts that are a real delight on the way back down. This is an awful road on any bike and you have been warned, but then you should have heeded that
sign and now nothing should surprise you. You’re here right, so you can handle it. But hey, when you get to the top, try your best not to overheat your kickstart only 70’s Honda twin and stall out, furiously kicking it back to life as you lock both wheels and slide backwards down the mountain. But listen, it’s a little known secret that all adventurous types love abandoned places and ghost towns, especially those accessed by terribly steep and awful dirt roads. And as noted before, these ghost towns abound in the West. They are nearly as ubiquitous as that aforementioned wolf t-shirt. And indeed, the wolf seems to be the self-proclaimed and adopted spirit animal of many. I haven’t figured out what my spirit animal is yet. The ornery Bison perhaps? Some sort of Jay? What’s yours?
There’s a free NFS campsite about 20 miles outside of Philipsburg. It’s full of mosquitoes , but it’s got water and comes complete with Larry Nielsen, first American to summit Everest without oxygen. And his story checks out. He’s got EVEREST license plates.
A real interesting and incredible gent who’s got a soft spot for adventure-minded types. He’ll ply you with beers and regal you true lies well into the night.
In the morning break camp and strike for Missoula, for your tire awaits! You don’t need it yet, in fact your still carrying it weeks later, so strap it to the back and motor on. Best to hit up Idaho and the Lolo motorway. Idaho 12 blasts through Lolo pass, an elegant mountain road with long sweeping curves and the occasional tight swtichback. This is motorcycling zen baby, pure Nirvana, and the art of the lean. It’s even great with a spare tire and a bunch of other shit strapped to the back of your seventies twin.
Blasting through Idaho in a single shot takes you to the two gross border towns of Lewiston and Clarkston, WA. The sun hangs low in the sky now and you find yourself in a teepee for the night.
On the up and up: Field Spring St. Park: Recommended by the kind Forest Rangers at Snake River Gorge welcome center, camping here yielded the choice of sleeping in my very own pup-tent or a teepee. Which would you choose? A really nice deserted little state park. Hot showers and flushing toilets await the few campers who choose to set up shop here. Another little shelter comes complete with wood stove, tables, and even an outlet where you can plug in your chargeables. Magnifique! Just like the real Indians.
Weird museums abound in small town America and, often enough, in the middle of nowhere. Now, should you find yourself on Montana highway 1 and south of I-90, keep your peepers peeled for a big ol’ welded steel mastodon and chrome bear. These are the works of Bill Ohrmann, a real artist and true gentleman of the plains. His museum is free and is yet another undiscovered American gem. An untrained 90 year old artist, Ohrmann started painting when he was 78 and his life’s work is contained within this museum. His paintings give a peek into the workings of the man himself, themselves painting a sad picture of man’s inhumanity to man and contempt for nature. His paintings are great, if all similarly themed, but his carvings and sculptures belie the touch of a master. Absolutely superb. Masterful and intricate. Step in…(if you dare).
The great basalt desert of Washington stretches for a hundred miles from the state’s eastern boundary to the Cascades. It was all carved out millennia ago, these great scablands, by massive rivers which spilled over melting ice dams at the end of the last ice age. 60 story high walls of water made their way from Montana to the Pacific Ocean, creating the scablands and destroying all in their stead on a scale so incomprehensibly large that it can only be comprehended from space. Hmm…great floods you say? 11,000 years ago? I wonder…
It’s becoming cliché now, but man there really is nothing out here. Well, there are “towns” out here. I mean , they’re on the map. But there’s no people. A card-lock gas station maybe. That’s all. There’s wheat and there’s sage. Fields of each stretch to the horizon. On one side deserts of sage and scrub; on the other undulating fields of wheat roll to the edge of the world. Storms blow way off in the distance, somewhere in the world. And dust-devils churn up fallow fields. Ride for an hour and you won’t see another person; you won’t see another car.
You are alone.
Route 21 will take you through all described and channel you into the living dead town of Lind, Washington. This is a real 20th century ghost town. It’s on the map but it doesn’t exist. Trust me. Signage in that 50’s style, that iconic font that is so quintessentially American, marks the last great exodus from Lind. Whole streets lie abandoned. Empty. A coffee shop proclaims that it is open and yet there is nothing inside, not even a cup. Nothing. A card-lock gas station and a couple of F-150s are the only indicators of life. A bridge on the outskirts of town lies in ruins, looking for all the world as a testament to the lost city of Lind, Washington. You’re not wanted here so get out.
Just past Lind, through the nothingness , lies Odessa. Another out there town on the outskirts and namesake birthplace of good chums born on the other side of the pond. Just one more point on the map whose soil must receive my boots and be trod upon. And a free museum no less! Harangue the elderly caretaker into letting you in off hours. In a performance you know all too well, watch his heart warm and them melt as you receive the grand tour of small town Odessa’s meteoritic rise and then, as an aside, secretly bear witness to its present fall into the scrapheap of history. Like Lind, Odessa is another railway town where the train just doesn’t stop anymore; just rumbles through, an ironic reminder of good times forgotten past. What will the next twenty years bring?
Travel Tip: Odessa is home to a Lyon’s Club which, unlike those filthy dogs in Jasper, provides free camping to all Odessian tourists. Make sure to get there early to beat the mad rush and claim a nice spot. Flush toilets, fresh water, and even an unsecured electrical socket await the traveller. Why, there’s even an alarm clock in the guise of church bells to rouse you from sleep on Sunday morn. Just another nice free campsite that feels like you’re camping on your parents’ front lawn.
Travel tip: BLM lands North on 21 outside of Odessa yield notice of several defunct craters and a hiking trail that will take you there on a wing and a prayer. That is, of course, if you have the inclination and the time. Well, I have both. Nothing spectacular but be warned, should you venture out there know that the trail is not oft visited and rattlesnakes abound. Some slight bushwhacking will put you into one of the craters where solitude waits. Again, watch for rattlers.
But enough of this desert. Like a great shark, we must keep moving or we die. This dry, beautiful, and arid rain-free desert must be left in our stead, for the rainforests of the Cascades call us by name. Rain and wetness reign supreme here on the Western slopes of this great forest. From melting glaciers spring great torrents of water which carve out canyons and gorges and rivers and streams. Tremendous glaciers grind rock into a fine dust and meltwater carries it to Lake Diablo, whose color is an intoxicatingly brilliant azure hue. This is beyond pleasuredome and idyllic camp sites await you on the shores of Diablo. Stay there for a couple nights. I recommend campsite #6. It’s the best one and right on the lake. Man, they just don’t make campsites this spectacular in the Northeast. There’s a ranger station here and 90 other campsites. This sounds terrible but it’s not because this is the road less travelled. Only five sites were taken on my first night, 10 or so on the second. The rangers also give an informative lecture most evenings as dusk sets next to a roaring fire. You’ve been warned.
But listen, Seattle looms large and this great exodus would not be complete without a visit to the Pacific Northwest’s counterculture cauldron. Damn, I’d been sleeping outside for what seemed like ages and it was time for a little urbanity man. I was gonna skip Seattle and just keep striking North, but I felt like I deserved a little R & R at this point man. Ah Seattle, what can I say? You’re a cool city. I like you, I really do. But you can’t live here and have a vehicle because there is no free parking at all.
Travel Tip: Note that should you stay at the Green Tortoise Hostel that parking at the garage across the street is $6 daily for motorcycles. I recommend the GT. It’s probably the best hostel I’ve ever stayed @, although it’s a possible tie with Nathan’s Villa in Krakow. Sumptuous breakfast feasts, bicycle rentals, free dinners (although these are a bit of a clusterfuck), decent staff, and a tits location right next to the Pike Place market round out the package. The beds even come with little curtains and individual reading lamps. And the bathrooms are private.
Kurt Cobain Deathouse and Deathbench:
Seattle is on the upswing it seems and displaces New York readily when it comes to coffee, beer, and food. It’s really hard to get a bad coffee here and you have to go out and look for a bad beer. Good food is ubiquitous and the same rule applies. There’s a great art scene but the museums are better in New York. Their aquarium is alright. Look, go visit and judge for yourself but remember to judge not lest you, yourself, be judged.
See you in Alaska